I’ve always seen the source material for The Walking Dead to be both a resource and a hindrance to the show. Kirkman’s writing in the comics is often repetitive and devolves into misery porn, and his attention to what makes characters tick isn’t all that profound. However, it at least provides the show with steam to move forward. Most sixth seasons are repetitive to the point of nearly bringing the show to a halt, with the exception of some shows that ended at their sixth seasons, and Kirkman’s comics at least give the show direction. Gimple is able to keep to a core storyline while improvising in order to enhance characters and the narrative. There are some occasional missteps, but that approach seems to be working.
I say this because “Always Accountable”, while a good episode of The Walking Dead, brings us closer to comic storylines that are really just a retreading of material that was already covered with The Governor and, well, every other hostile group Rick and Co have come across so far. When Daryl meets the three escapees in the woods, it’s clear that they were running from a new enemy, a human enemy that has a different philosophy than Rick’s, is well-armed, and has an army to enforce his rules. I’m not going to say much more than that for the sake of those non-comic readers, but it’s easy to tell that this group is more than a one-time deal. And it begs the question: In the face of this repetitive storytelling, what is the point? Shows tend to do well when they use Big Bads, as Sons of Anarchy did in its best seasons, but if The Walking Dead isn’t moving towards some sort of conclusion, then where is it moving?
Anyway, I’m getting off track. “Always Accountable” is a solid episode of television, thankfully shifting focus from Alexandria in order to provide us with some focused character stories. Daryl, after being separated from Sasha and Abraham, is taken prisoner by a man and two women who believe him to be from their old group. Sasha and Abraham end up barricaded in a large building, waiting for news from Daryl. Now, Daryl’s story ends up being the least interesting, mostly because these new characters aren’t all that interesting, and there are some dumber setpieces to go along with his adventures. Daryl vs. the bag was a pretty terrible moment in an otherwise sound episode, as was the moment when one of the three survivors ended up falling onto a pair of zombies. But it was certainly interesting to see another group with such a strict philosophy on possession and how that led members of their group to run away. With a strict philosophy like theirs, it’s easy for the strong to get stronger and the weak to get weaker.
But this episode revolves around the notion of choice, about being able to exercise free will in a world where the status quo has shifted. Both Daryl and the male survivor exercise restraint, as neither injures the other, and while they both end up betraying the other, they’re both still alive at the end. The male survivor says that he never killed any living person, that doing so would push him past a point of no return, and it goes to show that choice can keep a person from being pushed too far. If the survivor would have previously killed, then chances are Daryl would be dead by now. But the best commentary on this happens when Abraham and Sasha are alone in a building, waiting for Daryl to check in. Abraham wants to kill every zombie he sees, while Sasha tells him not to, as that would give their position away to leave freshly killed zombies laying around. Abraham is crippled by free time, by not having decisions made for him by the chaotic world around him, and the more he gives in to his impulses, the closer he gets to self-destructing. The moment in the episode where he faces down the impaled zombie is undoubtedly the best, as Abraham sees himself in the zombie, having given in to the indecision that the world tries to pin on him. It’s only when he makes the choice to wait that the zombie ends up falling, and what he wanted is provided for him.
The Walking Dead does a decent job reminding of just how the status quo impacts all in this new world, how people need to make choices to retain some semblance of humanity in a world where humanity is a liability. There’s a clear balance between the two, between vulnerability and being emotionless, and it’s easier to drift towards stoicism as more bad things continue to happen. The episode smartly uses Abraham and Sasha together to have Sasha try to pull him out of his trauma, and it helps to lend credibility to Abraham turning around. Their interactions are just another example of choices making a difference, how mercy can be a way to rebuilt instead of just a liability. While pushing Abraham down would be a way for Sasha to remain safe, building him up gives the potential to not only save a life, but to have somebody completely on your side. Choices breed consequences, and instead of always choosing the brutal one to keep you safe, sometimes it’s better to weigh your options before pulling the trigger.
“Always Accountable” follows up a very shaky episode with one that works well to reorient us to characters that haven’t had much to do all season. It’s easy to become frustrated that it is taking so long for the narrative to move forward, but this slower, character-based approach makes it even a little easier to care about what is happening to everybody. It gives us time to sink into the world that is being created, time to spend with characters that matter a little more to us every time we hang out with them. And while the last two episodes will surely provide us the zombie herd insanity we’ve all been waiting for, at least our wait has been time well spent.
So what did you think of the episode? Do you think the voice at the end is Glenn’s? Let me know in the comments!